Scammer tries to hack cybersecurity firm, gets hacked back

A cyber hacker gets scammed when he targeted a Clearwater cyber security firm.

KnowBe4 trains corporate clients on defending against "phishing attacks", a term for using realistic-looking but fake emails for illicit gain. 

Last Friday, the company's chief financial officer received an email purportedly from the chief technology officer requesting instructions on wire transferring nearly $20,000.

"That's the fellow standing there" comptroller Alanna Cormier told FOX 13 News, pointing to a co-worker 30 feet away, across an open office space.  When she asked him about the email, "I said hold on a second- maybe this is the real deal" CTO Alin Irimie said, "We deal with this situation all the time- the CEO fraud."   

KnowBe4 CEO and founder, Stu Sjouwerman, made the next executive decision.

 "We decided to have some fun and to see if we could trick the bad guy into clicking on a phishing link that we would send him" he explained.  A helpful tool:  The company has dozens of fake emails it uses in its anti-phishing training programs.     

Cormier first replied to the phisher, innocently asking where to wire the money. 

"We got back the bank information with the bank name, the address with the account number and the routing number" Irimie said, showing the phisher's response.     

Then they sent a fake email appearing to be from AOL, the scammer's email provider.  It said the email account was locked for security purposes, and the user needed to "click here" to log in and unlock the account.  "And of course this link doesn't go to AOL, that link goes to us" Irimie explained.

"Indeed he entered his user name and password so we could get his IP address, his internet address" Sjouwerman said, adding that information in turn provided the scammer's geographic location.  "We know where it is but we refrain from making that public because we've transferred it to law enforcement, and it's now in their hands" he told FOX 13 News.

A large monitor inside the company's front door gives a global display of real-time phishing attacks against "honey pots" designed to attract phishers.

"The CEO fraud scam is the major crime wave at the moment" Sjouwerman claimed. "There's thousands of these scams going on at the same time, and hundreds of people are being tricked.  One scammer can make about a quarter million dollars in illegal transfers- a month."